In Search of Wildflowers

April 15, 2013
Trails through Red Hills
Total distance: 7.5 miles

Entering the protected region.

Entering the protected region.

Having learned about the Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern from an outdoor recreation website, I took a drive to the historic town of Chinese Camp in Tuolumne County where Red Hills is located.  The area has been designated as a place of critical concern for several reasons, among them: to protect the rare plant species found there, and to protect the winter habitat of the bald eagle.  My reason for visiting was to see wildflowers. 

At the beginning.

At the beginning.

The large gravel parking area off of Red Hills Road was empty but for two horse trailers.  An information board near a picnic table had a simple trail map posted.  Looking at the map, I formed a route in my mind, then headed out.

Heading out on the trail.

Heading out on the trail.

Wildflowers showed up immediately beginning on the Old Stage Trail that skirted Red Hills Road.  Bright yellow nodding seris, buttercups, and lavender blue dick dotted the way uphill.  What might have been a dusty trail was wet and muddy in spots since I was there the day after a rain storm.

Nodding Seris

Nodding Seris

The most significant characteristic of the area was the rock that was a reddish color due to iron oxidation.  From what I’ve read, Red Hills has “one of the largest exposures of serpentine rocks in the Sierra Nevada metamorphic belt.”  I wasn’t expecting to walk upon a turbulent trail and was glad that my hiking shoes were specifically designed to guard feet from that type of exposure.

A tough route to tread.

A tough route to tread.

The fully exposed trail turned away from the busy country road and abutted a verdant pasture of a privately owned ranch.  It then departed from all signs of civilization.

A peaceful pasture.

A peaceful pasture.

Large blooms of Indian paintbrush brightened the area throughout the buckbrush.  Pale checkermallow were sprinkled throughout.  Common monkeyflowers grew in patches along a mostly dry creek bed.  I continued following the rocky path and saw newly laid tracks of elusive equine.

Indian Paintbrush

Paintbrush

Checkermallow

Checkermallow

Monkeyflowers

Monkeyflowers

Heading towards one of the more sheltered trails that switchbacked through the foothill pines, I climbed higher, then spotted two horses and their riders a short distance away.  That was the last I saw of them for the day as they moved around a hill and out of sight.  To get back on course, I took the Butterweed Trail and returned to the Old Stage Trail passing a mucky stock water source and an area decorated with California poppies.  The horseshoe prints continued in my path until they turned onto a section of the Soaproot Ridge Trail–where I walked later in the day.

California Poppies

Poppies

My goal was to climb the rubble-covered hill in front of me.  At the top, the trail was less rugged and I noticed tire tracks of a mountain bike in the soft dirt.

On the ridge.

On the ridge.

Looking down on an unoccupied shack in the middle of nowhere, I had a great view of the colorful hills and could see first hand why the area was named “Red Hills”.

A serene sight.

A serene sight.

While traversing the ridge, a distant view of Lake Don Pedro peeked through the trees.

Lake Don Pedro Reservoir

Lake Don Pedro Reservoir

Creamy yellow butterflies flitted about but none would alight for a photograph.  I realized that I didn’t really know where I was going.  It was past lunchtime, so I ate while retracing my path down the hill.

On the way to the Soaproot Ridge Trail.

On the way to the Soaproot Ridge Trail.

Remembering that I could circle back to the parking lot via the Soaproot Ridge Trail, I took that route–the way the horses went earlier in the day.  A large jack rabbit startled me as he jumped back and forth on the trail.  I walked until the trail broke into many different directions.  Being unfamiliar with the area (and having a hard time discerning a dry creek bed from the trail), I chose to turn around and go back in the direction I walked that morning.

Trail or creekbed?

Trail or creek bed?

Since the tread was so rocky, my eyes were always on the ground.  I saw a baby gopher snake sunning herself and was relieved that I didn’t step on her.  She posed for a photograph before slithering back into the cool grass.

A gopher snake.

A gopher snake.

I’d like to come back to this area and explore more of the trails next spring.  It was a peaceful and quiet day. I got in a good 7 1/2 mile hike and enjoyed the flora and fauna of the Red Hills region.

Happy to be here.

Happy to be here.

 

12 thoughts on “In Search of Wildflowers

  1. Dad

    Janet –
    Great post. Loved the photos and all the flower names. Also, I’m glad you suggested to click on the photo for a better view. I found that that helped a many of the shots. How were you able to take the photos of yourself if you were hiking alone?
    Dad

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  2. A Table in the Sun

    I’ve ridden my horse at Red Hills in spring, and it’s truly gorgeous! My horses are not fans of the rocky trail however. My husband and I enjoyed the lovely wildflowers at Eastman Lake last weekend sans horses. Wild turkeys, coyotes, snakes, eagles, and toads abound in the foothills.

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  3. Kathy

    The hills look beautiful. The flowers enchanting. It’s hard to believe we live in the same country (our world is still covered with snow) but such a gift we can look at pics like yours and imagine… P.S. My son is driving up to San Francisco from San Diego today. So he’s getting close to your neck of the woods.

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    1. Janet Post author

      I’m late in responding…your son must be in SF by now, or back in SD, both are beautiful areas. I look at your photos and am so totally surprised at how white it is there. 🙂 Have a good day.

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  4. Celia

    lovely snake picture. i also liked the picture of the hut in the midst of the hills. i would not have enjoyed such rocky trails. . . .

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